Apple Inc's maestro Steve Jobs took the stage to a standing ovation on Wednesday, returning to the spotlight after a brief medical absence to unveil the second version of the iPad.

The familiar sight of the Silicon Valley legend in a black turtleneck and jeans is sure to cheer fans and investors, who had worried about the health of the charismatic company co-founder.

In the run-up to the event, there had been almost as much speculation about whether Jobs would appear as there was about the device itself. Jobs, who has been treated for a rare form of cancer, had been on indefinite medical leave for an undisclosed condition.

Didn't want to miss today, the industry icon told a packed auditorium in San Francisco, holding forth with his characteristic flair.

Shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple rose 1 percent to $352.63 early Wednesday afternoon on Nasdaq.

Jobs' return to the spotlight comes at a critical moment. Apple is launching the next-generation of its ground-breaking tablet -- known for now as the iPad 2 -- just as its main adversaries are releasing their first devices.

The iPad 2 is expected to be thinner, faster and camera-equipped, going on sale soon in a surprisingly fast roll-out that highlights the fierce competition in the tablet market.

Apple sold nearly 15 million iPads in nine months of 2010, two or three times as many as analysts had predicted. The company is expected to sell 30 million or more this year, which would generate close to $20 billion in sales.

That is despite a growing cast of competitors like Motorola Mobility, Research in Motion and Hewlett-Packard.

Jobs said rivals were just flummoxed by the iPad.

(Reporting by Gabriel Madway and Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Richard Chang)